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Just wanted to share my latest labor of love – a tutorial on the art of improvisation. I hope you’ll find something useful or at least entertaining in it.

Transcript

The Art of Improvisation

The topic of this tutorial is the art of improv as it relates to dance.       

Once after a performance that didn’t go quite as planned, one of my dear dance sisters  suggested I teach a workshop on “How to Make Mistakes.” I admit I do have expertise in this area as I make a LOT of mistakes.  I  think (hope!) what she meant is how to cover mistakes when you make them so the audience doesn’t know that a mistake was made.   This video will help address that topic.

Honing your improvisation skills will make your improv look like choreography and your choreography look like improv

My own improvisational skills have been hard-won. They’ve come about as a result of performances where I’ve forgotten choreography, or just not finished choreographing a dance that I’m schedule to perform. They’ve resulted from costume malfunctions and props that were dropped mid-performance, or somehow mysteriously winding up with another person’s prop in my hand mid-dance. They’ve resulted from having to adapt to various surfaces and spaces that were less than ideal. And from having audience members join me in dance mid-performance in unexpected ways.

But improvisation is more than what happens when you make a mistake. So what is improv?

I think of improv as expression rather than imitation. It’s an openness and willingness to embody the music and rhythm and to be responsive to whatever is happening in the moment.

This quote from Alia Thabit’s Midnight at the Crossroads highlights the importance of improv in Eastern dance. She writes that Eastern dance is traditionally:

a dance of improvisation, of on-the fly musical interpretation, of subtle emotional timbres, somatic experience, and intuitive interaction between a dancer and musician–and that musician plays improvised music, created in the moment as an expression of his feeling. For the musicians, dancers, and guests, the goal is tarab, musical ecstasy. Every performance becomes a never-before seen, never-to-be repeated art happening, uniting performers and guests in a state of joy.

Alia Thabit, Midnight at the Crossroads, p. 7.

Of course in this digital age, we tend to dance to recorded music, but we can keep that spirit of tarab alive – that sense of shared joy – by staying open to what arises in the moment and by keeping the connection to our audience and to the rhythm of the music we embody.

So the question becomes: how do we develop and practice a skill that by its nature requires us to respond to the ever-changing moment?

These are a few broad ideas that may help us answer that question.  Through intention, presence, connection, and play we can hone our skills at improv.

Intention

Not all artists begin with intention. Some like writer Paul Gallico choose to metaphorically, “open a vein and bleed.” But for those of us who find that sort of thing too messy, setting a clear intention beforehand about what you want to communicate can be very useful. That intention may be simply creating a tarab state, or maybe there is another feeling or idea you want to communicate to your audience.   If you are doing a character dance, it may be useful before your performance to write out the story of the character or to take some time putting the character’s walk or gestures in your movement vocabulary so you can draw upon them more easily when needed.

Presence

Another aspect of improvisation is presence. Presence is a state of mind. It is being Here and Now and Fully Embodied in a state of Clear, Calm, Alert, Non-judgmental Awareness. It requires turning off the internal critic so that you are able to carefully Look and Listen to whatever appears before you.

Connection

When you are present, it is much easier to establish a connection. And connection is at the heart of improv. The connection can be anything: a person in the audience, some aspect of the environment, an idea, or it can be a connection to your own intuitive response. And that intuitive response is what we rely on in the moment to make decisions on the fly.

Play

And that brings us to play. In Stuart Brown’s  Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, play is defined as, “purposeless, voluntary, improvisational activities that are done because of their inherent attraction.” In other words, play is stuff ya do because it’s just plain fun! Play is all about discovering and cultivating your own joy.

If have limited time or you’re feeling inhibited or shy you can set aside time to play by yourself – exploring props, characters, and movement with or without music. The work you do in classes and workshops, studying choreography and technique, gives you the vocabulary for your style of dance. Play helps you develop new pathways. It gives you a safe space where you can have happy accidents and learn to respond creatively in the moment. Play is where you practice intuitive synthesis of your technique and where you learn to trust your body. 

Another fun way to practice improv is to schedule play dates with others. Improv classes allow you to practice newfound skills in a safe context where you can learn with and from other dancers.   I’ve had the opportunity to take several improv classes and have found each one a unique learning experience. Taking an improv class in a field outside of dance, like theater or comedy, also provides lessons that are transferrable.

Neuroscience has shown us that emotions are contagious through the activity of mirror neurons.  These neurons activate not only when we experience an emotion, but also when we see others experiencing an emotion.  When you are relaxed and having fun it gives others a chance to share in that feeling. So find your joy and invite others along for the ride.

That “Just Finished a Project” feeling

“We show up, burn brightly, live passionately, hold nothing back, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back, and let go.”

–ROLF GATES

So grateful for the brilliant light of my dance sisters.

Namaste.

“By opening the door to the shadow realm a little, and letting out various elements a few at a time, relating to them, finding use for them, negotiating, we can reduce being surprised by shadow sneak attacks and unexpected explosions.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

On a sleepless night earlier this week, I used the gift of extra time and energy to do some reading that has been neglected on my nightstand for far too long. Since then, a particular passage in the book The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York, has been tapping at my mental chamber door all week. Author Jacquelin Cangro, recounted a scene that unfolded during her subway commute: a little girl got onboard the train with her father and soon after erupted into a spontaneous twirling dance accompanied only by the music inside her own mind. The author watched with amusement tinged by a wistful yearning for the sort freedom of expression that comes with being four years old.

I sympathize with the author — oh to be free from the trappings of adulthood — from the notions of decency and decorum, from responsibility and respectability, from the ‘shoulds’ and ‘Thou Shalt Nots,’ from the veils and gilded cages.

A tiny dancer still lives inside of these subways, chambers, shadows, and longings…

If we cracked the door open just a little bit, what would we see…?

My Little Spacebook celebrates a decade of the pretty things unfolding wings and every sweet flirtation with the blushing rose.

 

 

 

Mystic River Dance – Dance of the Butterflies

Mystic River Dance presented this dance in the show “Nature’s Rhythms” (February 2019, Memphis, TN).

Music: Adagio by Secret Garden

Choreography: Feyrouz (Julia Oller)

Dancers: Mystic River Dance

Butterfly wings by DOR (Dorota Pracownia)

 

 

Pharaonic

Tonight’s rehearsal

True Story:

Yesterday I went to work with my pants on backwards.

It wasn’t the first time.

I can’t be bothered by which way to put on pants.

I have a lot of goddess shit to do.

 

When she appeared swaying

The beauty of my lover infatuated us.

No one can relieve my suffering from my love sickness

But the queen of beauty.

Lamma Bada Yatathanna, Translated to English, Author Unknown

The celebration of creativity continues.

Some songs and stories are so powerful they grab our imaginations and bodies and continue to reverberate through us. Today, I’ve been wrapped up in a song that’s drifted across centuries and oceans and I’m pondering the notions of songlines and stories of the Dreamtime.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown describes art as a “shared expression and a deep collective experience.” The performance video below fits the bill.  In it, the lovely Jasmine performs an improvisational dance to Joe Michael’s modern instrumental twist of the classic Lamma Bada Yatathanna.  Enjoy!

 

Make-it month continues.

I decided to channel my all my emo and mopey-ness into further development of the raven choreography.

I can’t remember what came first, the wings or the song.  Both appeared in my life around the same time about a year ago.  The wings I purchased from Polish artist Dorota D.’s Etsy store Pracownia Dor. She hand-paints these gorgeous silk wings.

Raven

The song I’m working with was originally a poem set to music in the 1700s by Swedish composer Carl Michael Bellman (Fredman’s Epistles, No. 81). I’m using the Mediæval Babes’ version of this work, Märk Hur Vår Skugga (Behold Our Shadow), which you can listen to in the video below.  The lyrics set a scene in which two fellows are graveside with the deceased: a wayward, trouble-making woman. As the two men reflect on their own mortality and stare into the abyss, one wonders, ‘Who will now command the bottle? Thirsty was she, thirsty am I, we are all very thirsty.’

I also revisited Poe’s poem The Raven for a bit of Nevermore inspiration and read up on raven symbolism in Viking mythology.  I played with wing configurations, geometry, and whirling. I experimented with wing and wind, shutter and flutter. I perched and sat in an attempt to capture the ghastly, grim, and ancient in movement and stillness. Then when things got too morbid and ridiculous, I squawked and flapped my wings and flew the coop.

Today we made another spectacle on stage. Eventually, I may have a video of that to share. In the mean time, the video link to my Russian Gypsy Fortune Teller’s Dance has arrived! I hope you enjoy!

xx

 

the butterflies!

Mystic River Dance’s Annual show is Saturday, February 2, 2019 at the Buckman Performing Arts Center at 7 pm.  Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 at the door.  Please join us as we celebrate the beauty of the Earth, sky, fire, wind, and sea! Nature’s Rhythms will feature performances from local dancers and feature belly dance, Odissi, fantasy and fusion artists. Isidora Hart is our guest star and she will be teaching two workshops on Sunday.

nature's rhythm flyer

Family and friends – let me know if you’re coming so I can save you an advanced ticket.

Below is a video of another dance from the show Philomena’s Dream.  This medley is a collaboration of two dances across three different dance groups in Memphis: IDA, Jasmine’s Jewels, and Mystic River Dance.

The  choreographer of the candle dance is Isidora Hart. The song is Pachyderm Picnic by Brent Lewis.

Jasmine (of Dance with Jasmine) choreographed the second dance.  The song is Misirlou by Mosava.

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